Sometimes you go to a bar or a party and, frankly, just don’t want to drink. But you often do, because your choices are lame — cranberry juice, hold the vodka; tonic water and lime; Diet Coke. Good news! Spirit-free drinks — zero-proof drinks, or mocktails as they often are called — are making their way to the mainstream. Mixologists are whipping up interesting drinks that are just as complex as their boozy bedfellows. These drinks often have health benefits (hello, pomegranate juice!) and don’t come with the dreaded “I really shouldn’t have drank so much” hangover the next day. Here’s how to craft your own sans-alcohol sipper … or at least make sure your favorite bartender knows what’s up.
Choose a flavor profile
Just like with a regular cocktail, it starts with the figuring out the flavors you like. Do the tropical flavors of daiquiris speak to you? Do you like a more herbaceous drink, like a mojito? A good mixologist can whip something up on the fly just based on your profile, but if you are trying to stock ingredients at home, think of the flavors you love to sip.
It’s all about that base
We chatted with Chicago mixologists Jenee Craver and Aneka Saxon, and both said the biggest challenge was finding a liquid replacement for the alcohol, which carries the bulk of the volume of the drink. Good choices are ginger ale, a balanced juice like grapefruit or watermelon, soda water or tea. Avoid Sprite or anything like it — a heavy dose of sugar will overpower the drink. If you’re stumped, brands like Seedlip make distilled nonalcoholic spirits in various flavor profiles that are easy to plug and play into your favorite cocktail recipes. You also might want to try the nonalcoholic Ceder’s, described as a premium brand that contains all the flavors of gin without the alcohol.
Use your imagination
You’ll likely want to add some sort of sweet and citrus elements to your base (3/4 ounce simple syrup and 3/4 ounce lemon-lime is a simple ratio), but here is where you can get really creative. Saxon recommends stepping outside of the box with ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, Szechuan peppercorn and balsamic vinegar, or even a green tea of matcha syrup for added health benefits. Really, anything goes — just stick to your intended flavor profile. Add a garnish — and voilà, you’ve created your very own mocktail.
And, finally, if you DON'T want to create your own, here are two mocktail recipes you're going to love.
- 2 ounces grapefruit juice
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce lemongrass syrup
- Ginger ale
Method: Combine juices and lemongrass syrup in your mixing tin and shake quickly. Strain over ice in a tall glass, and top with ginger ale. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger skewered through a lemon wedge.
Courtesy Aneka Saxon, beverage director, Machine in Chicago
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1 1/2 ounces carrot juice
- Ginger beer
Method: Shake juices together and pour into glass over ice. Top with ginger beer.
Courtesy Jenee Craver, beverage director, Sable Kitchen + Bar in Chicago